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Cannabis cultivation and distribution facility considered for Colusa; more public hearings to be held

Last week, the Colusa City Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution of intent to amend the city’s zoning ordinance, the first step in allowing a commercial cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility to be built on a 11-acre parcel in the Colusa Industrial Park.

The Irvine-based company looking to build the facility, Cultivation Technologies Inc. (CTI), had two representatives at last week’s city council meeting to explain what the company could offer the city: jobs, an influx of cash, and a place as pioneers at the forefront of a burgeoning industry.

“Our intention is to sort of raise the bar for the cannabis industry. Ultimately what, through a series of public hearings that we’re proposing to do in the city of Colusa, is bring the legal cannabis industry to the city, create as many as 200 jobs for the community, and ideally possibly even double the city’s annual budget,” CTI CEO Justin Beck told the council.

City staff and council members have been meeting with representatives from CTI to discuss the potential facility — described as a large industrial cannabis processing plant — for more than a month.

According to Dunn, the city’s interaction with CTI began informally at the end of October, when then-Mayor Tom Reische met CTI’s Public Affairs Counsel Rob Berheimer at the California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions annual conference in Santa Barbara.

After talking with Berheimer about CTI’s facility that had been approved for construction in the City of Coachella, and learning that they were seeking a location for another plant, Reische invited Berheimer to come take a look at Colusa, Dunn said.

They liked what they saw.

At last week’s council meeting, Beck said that Colusa offers CTI “a strategic opportunity in terms of geography and (available) workforce.”

The facility could benefit the city as well.

“Their plan is for them to find a city they can work with. And really, they are looking for a partner where they can come into a community that can really use the financial boost,” Dunn said.

The City of Colusa fits that bill, particularly after the Measure A sales tax increase failed to pass muster with the city’s voters in November, and left the city facing a budget deficit for next year.

Dunn said that the city could potentially receive money from CTI in the form of facility fees and a percentage of the company’s gross receipts. Between the two, the city could potentially see between $5 million and $6 million go into the general fund annually, Dunn said.

“Regardless, even if it’s just $1 million (from facility fees), it is much more than if Measure A would have passed,” he added. “At this point, we will have revenue coming in, and it will help us in so many ways: It help improve the city and help keep us from going bankrupt.”

The influx of cash into the general fund would bring the city back into the black, and — importantly — it won’t come at the expense of local residents.

“The residents of Colusa have made it pretty clear that they don’t want government getting into their pocketbooks, and we hear them,” Dunn said. “I think that the council is looking at this from a ‘when one door closes, another opens’ standpoint. We have a minimum amount of money we think the city will receive — but we’re not driven by that. We are driven by the opportunity that will come from them being here, and hopefully, this will allow us to get along without going to the public for more money again.”

Dunn said that the biggest opportunity CTI has to offer in the city’s eyes is jobs, for which pay will start at $16 per hour.

“The most important thing from this are those 200 jobs. They have assured us that they will take a local approach for those positions, which would be an instant shot in the arm for our economy,” Dunn said.

While Dunn noted that there is a chance

While the city is eying the opportunities and potential benefits of CTI building a facility Colusa, they have anticipated some of the community’s greatest concerns, a number of which were brought up at last week’s meeting during public comment.

The largest concern, Dunn said, has been with potential odors coming from the plant — but that shouldn’t be a problem: CTI’s state of the art, “gas-tight” facility will eliminate any chance of that, Dunn said.

And if it doesn’t?

“I want to be clear: We are concerned about the smell, and we will put all of the necessary safeguards into the conditional use permit and development agreement. There will be penalties if there is a smell — those protections and conditions will all be built into the permits,” Dunn said.

Two other concerns the city has discussed with CTI are security and keeping retail sales of cannabis out of the city. CTI has assured the city that there will be no retail sales, and that the facility will have top-notch security system to “control cross contamination and inventory control.”

Dunn noted that the federal government could potentially stop the project, considering the fact that cannabis remains illegal federally, but that Colusa was shielded from risk.

“Because Colusa doesn’t have to buy into the project, there is limited risk,” Dunn said. “Even if the federal government stepped in, there would be a turnkey facility that remained behind.”

Dunn said that he encourages community members who have concerns about the project to attend future public meetings. He anticipates those meetings might allay some of the community’s uncertainty surrounding the facility, as it did for a number of elected and appointed city officials.

“CTI has given certain assurances that made council members and planning commission members who sat down for a one-on-one feel better about the project,” Dunn said. “We want the public to be informed before they pass judgment.”

As for their part, CTI is eager to communicate with the community.

“We’re an open book. We’re very proud of the company we’ve built and we’re really proud to potentially bring this to the City of Colusa,” Beck said.

“We’ve heard a couple people that have a lot of questions. We’re going to be happy to sit down in small sessions, one-on-one with people in the community, to answer any questions folks have at the appropriate time when the project is being reviewed,” Berheimer added.

What’s Next

Now that the city council has approved the resolution of their intent to amend the city’s zoning code to allow for cannabis cultivation and manufacturing, city staff will prepare the actual amendment, which will then go before the Planning Commission.

If the amendment is approved by the Commission, it will come back before the Council before receiving final approval. There will be an opportunity for public comment on both occasions, and a noticed public hearing will be held on the topic. Before the project could proceed, CTI would still be required to obtain a conditional use permit, which will allow the city to impose any additional conditions of approval deemed necessary to limit any impacts to the community.

Construction wouldn’t begin on the Colusa facility until after CTI’s facility in Coachella is completed, but the goal would be to have everything in place by the time that happens, council member Tom Reische said.

“We have to wait for them to finish the plant in Coachella,” Reische said. “I think they just got surface down, but there are not any buildings yet. We want our site ready to go when they finish theirs.”

Brian Pearson
Brian Pearson
Brian Pearson is the former Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects included reporting local government and the sports page.

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